Paul’s instructions to Timothy have been interpreted to mean that God’s laws about clean and unclean animals are no longer in force. Is this correct?
The apostle Paul wrote the following to the young evangelist Timothy: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:1-5).
Paul is here warning of a latter-day apostasy from the true Christian faith. Notice what these heretics would advocate:
- Giving heed to demons.
- Enforced celibacy and abstention from marriage.
- Enforced abstention from certain foods that God gave and approved.
Could this refer to God’s law about clean and unclean animals?
Now let us consider whether these warnings could possibly refer to God’s ban on consuming meats labeled “unclean” in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.
First, Paul identifies the aberrant doctrines as originating with demons. The laws of clean and unclean animals originated not with demons, but with God Himself, who gave them to Moses to pass on to the Israelites (Leviticus 11:1-2). And this knowledge goes back much further, since Noah knew which animals were clean and unclean before the Flood (Genesis 7:2).
Also, there are many examples in the writings of the apostle Paul where he quotes the Law of Moses approvingly. (See, for example, 1 Corinthians 5:13, which quotes Deuteronomy, and 1 Corinthians 9:8-9, quoting Deuteronomy 25:4. There are many more.) Nowhere does the apostle Paul refer to laws God gave through Moses as originating with demons! That would have been blasphemous!
Second, the reference to abstention from certain foods is mentioned in the same context as enforced celibacy and forbidding marriage. These truly are demonic doctrines, ones that never originated in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures, but which have been enjoined by some religious authorities since the time of Christ. Indeed, required celibacy for religious leaders has been blamed for serious abuses and scandals in recent years.
Third, these heretics would seek to ban the consumption of certain foods that God created to be enjoyed. “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving” (verse 4). Does this mean human beings should consume just anything: Leeches? Rats? Poisonous frogs? Cockroaches? Flies? Obviously no.
So what does 1 Timothy 4:1-5 mean?
The meaning here is not that we should go ahead and just eat anything; the reference is to the heretical doctrine of abstaining from foods that God gave and approved. “For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (verse 5, emphasis added). The Word of God, in the Old Testament, defines which meats are to be consumed and which not.
Through the last 2,000 years of history, some religious leaders have sought to impose vegetarianism on their followers, while others have taught abstention from certain foods, such as meat, on certain days. Such doctrines do not originate in the Bible and are therefore heretical. Paul was warning of those heretical teachings, not of the biblical requirement to avoid pork and shellfish.
So we see that 1 Timothy 4:1-5 does not abolish God’s law about clean and unclean animals.
For more about clean and unclean animals, see the article “Clean and Unclean Animals: Does God Care What Meats We Eat?” and the chart “Clean and Unclean Meats.”